Joey Diaz walks through the park with his 17-month-old daughter. “My little baby girl,” he says with deep daddy affection. Diaz, a comedian, jokes he’ll “run her like a thoroughbred,” then take her home for a nap.
Diaz, performing Friday at South Point, looks at her and thinks about his lost childhood.
When Diaz was 15 in New Jersey, he found his mother dead on the floor at home.
His dad was gone, too, so Diaz bounced from house to Irish or Italian house, ratcheting up his drug use, leading to prison on kidnapping and robbery charges.
“I’m Hispanic. I’m a Catholic. I believe in God. I believe in karma. But when God takes away your mom, you don’t believe in (expletive),” Diaz says.
Through half of his 20s, Diaz, 50, had no respect for society or humanity. Despondency wasn’t a reflection of how he was raised but how he fell.
“Once you see through the curtain, it’s very disheartening to somebody, on any level. I saw through life’s curtain,” he says. “I couldn’t believe how dark my life was. Throughout all that darkness, I always wanted to see. I always wanted to do something with my life. I just was struggling to find what.”
While in prison, he started doing stand-up, which he attributes to stopping him from murdering people. After prison, he moved to Los Angeles with low expectations.
“I thought, ‘Nothing’s gonna happen to me. I might come out here and make a few people laugh, but I’m just gonna kill time till I die.’ I thought I would be an extra one time in a movie. And I would have been happy with that.”
But Hollywood saw something compelling in Diaz. In “Spider-Man 2,” he got a memorable line: “You wanna get to him, you go through me.”
He landed parts in Adam Sandler’s “The Longest Yard” and Robert De Niro’s “Grudge Match.”
Diaz also had lived a series of insane episodes, setting a hooker’s wig on fire, selling coke to Whitney Houston. Joe Rogan calls Diaz “the funniest man alive,” partly because of the comedic way Diaz tells his stories.
He developed his comedy through perseverance.
“I just showed up at the Comedy Store. You keep showing up, and you keep showing up, and eventually, somebody notices.”
Seven years ago, he finally got off coke after one of his cats nosed into his coke bag and died. That night, Diaz begged and bargained, crying to God to save the other cat in the house. The cat lived, Diaz stayed off coke, Diaz lived.
All these years, Diaz found comfort in friends in Jersey who helped him when he was down and out, and even homeless. He phones them every morning.
And he was lucky he always knew money wasn’t the answer.
“People die millionaires. All your life, you’re gonna stress money?” Diaz says.
He doesn’t want to let his old Jersey friends down. He doesn’t want to let down his baby girl, or his wife who stayed by his side, or his friend Rogan.
“She couldn’t handle finding me on the floor,” he says. “Joe Rogan would never be the same if he went to get me one morning and I was in a hotel room dead.”
So here he is, the man who survived.
“I am very thankful. The successful part of this is the peace of mind. It’s not the money. It’s not Las Vegas. It’s not (Hollywood). It has to do with your peace of mind. For some people, it takes 10 years to acquire. For others, it takes 30. It took me 30 to get peace of mind.”
And now, ladies and gentlemen, live from the South Point, it’s Mr. Joey Diaz.
Doug Elfman’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.